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Demonstrators walk near Glass Street during the Wear Orange event on Saturday, June 2, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Organizers with the group Moms Demand Action brought community members together to remember victims of gun violence in solidarity with a national movement.

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Community members wear orange to draw attention to gun violence problem

Local activists gathered to take part in Chattanooga's "Wear Orange Weekend" event Saturday, part of the national movement to raise awareness about gun violence.

National organizations such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown for Gun Safety founded the movement to support gun violence prevention in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Locally, a few dozen gathered at Mark Making, a public art space on Glass Street, to hear from student activists, community members and groups such as Moms for Social Justice, a local poet and even a survivor of gun violence, before taking part in a "celebration of life" march around the block.

"We know this affects all members of our community," Erin Goddard, leader of Chattanooga's Moms Demand Action group, said of gun violence and school shootings. "Make a noise [today]! We are going to draw attention to ourselves. We are doing something. We are here to show that we are not willing to give up demanding change."

Placed around the block were names of some of the seven homicide victims in the past year in Chattanooga. Thirty-four people were killed in 2017.

Poet Erika Roberts spoke about her friend, Cachet Peterson, who was gunned down outside Southside Social in February.

"I knew one of the victims. I knew her," Roberts said. "Today, we get to stand, and we get to remember her life, and we get to remember her she was 21, barely 21. The same age as my child, as my son, and I couldn't imagine losing a child to a senseless crime."

Two representatives of Chattanooga Students Leading Change, the group formed after the Valentine's Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, also spoke at the event.

"This problem is a distinctly American one," said Zachary Opengart, a rising senior at Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts. "Gun violence shatters all the barriers of race, socioeconomic status and political beliefs. The blood on the streets is not an issue of what political party is on your voter registration form. This is a widespread calamity that affects us all."

Across the country, there has been a rise in youth activism following the Parkland shooting, as students have come together to call attention to gun violence in schools. Chattanooga Students Leading Change helped organize student walkouts and the local March for Our Lives rally in March, have held forums and town halls and even traveled to Nashville to lobby lawmakers to support stricter gun laws such as universal background checks, enacting red flag laws and funding gun violence research.

"Students should be worrying about bullet points on their homework — not bullets flying in their classroom," Opengart added. "We need more backpacks, not body bags."

Anika Iqbal, a rising junior at Baylor School and one of the original members of Chattanooga Students Leading Change, echoed Opengart's thoughts and explained why she was wearing orange Saturday.

"We wear orange today for each of the people we represent here whose lives were cut short," Iqbal said. "Today we wear orange. A bright color that not only screams the names of all the people who have been killed and highlights each of us as people who will fight for them, but also a bright color that hopefully, hopefully foreshadows a bright future."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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